DHC highlights major gap between Government policy and what patients want in response to Health Select Committee inquiry

In our response to the Health and Social Care Committee inquiry into the future of general practice, we highlight:

1. The government policy of increasing face-to-face GP appointments works against what most people want

Every week, Digital Healthcare Council members ask millions of patients how they want to engage with general practice and what sort of appointments they prefer. Their top priority is to have their issue addressed effectively.

Just 11% choose face-to-face provision when offered a genuine choice of consultation types, and we see many patients choosing to change their GP provider for a digital first option when that is available.

The current government policy that arbitrarily singles out the 20% of practices with the lowest proportion of face-to-face GP appointments is therefore flawed. Instead, it should refocus on delivering timely care through channels that match what patients want.

To be clear, face-to-face appointments have an important role, but taking time out to travel to wait to be seen at the GP practice building is not what most patients want most of the time.

2. Digital approaches can give a major boost to workforce capacity

Many general practitioners, particularly those returning from career breaks, greatly value the flexibility that can be achieved by providing care digitally.

A more structured and consistent approach to remote working would therefore increase capacity both by retaining more staff and through the flexibility offered by remote working. Evidence shows this allows up to 25% more hours per week of consultation time per GP. If that switch were to occur across 26% of our current workforce, this would create additional capacity equivalent to an additional 6,000 GPs.

3. Directing patients to the right service through better digital triaging could reduce pressures on general practice and on A&E

Research by DHC members and from other sources, suggests that digital triage could:

– Reduce administration and allow clinicians to work at the top of their skillset by redirecting patients with minor ailments suitable for self-care to a pharmacist instead of the GP, leading to savings for the NHS of around £812 million.

– Achieve around 2.4 million fewer A&E attendances per year if implemented nationally.

Yet we are only barely scratching the surface of this potential. To make the most of this we need to reform our approach to procurement; increase transparency on service utilisation; and incentivise improvements in service performance across local systems.

Read more… publication of our response has been delayed by the Committee because it extended the deadline for responses, but we will post a link to the full submission as soon as it becomes available.